We are Good and Bad at the Same Time
The Goodness Paradox

While I try to absorb a lot of information and process it, there is much more that I don’t know. What explains the duality that we face in America today? In California, eighteen people have been killed in mass shootings in a span of three days. Gov. Newsom asked the question, “What the hell is going on?”

We have a situation in America where men determine how women will deal with their reproductive rights. Men on the Supreme Court, Members of Congress, and officials at the state and local level decide for women. That is blatant sexism. Men wouldn’t tolerate that treatment from women.

Many Americans are into white supremacy. If you aren’t white, you are less than everyone else ethnically, racially, or religiously.

My ranting could go on and on, but Gov. Newsom is correct, “What the hell is going on?” Enter Dr. Richard Wrangham. He is a Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and has some ideas. The only science class I had while in college, graduate school, and post-graduate school was in my freshmen year of college. It was a ten-hour class in geology.

Dr. Richard Wrangham

Dr. Richard Wrangham

Therefore, this is my novice level of understanding of Wrangham. Human beings and chimpanzees have a common ancestor: the Great Ape. However, the chimps and humans went separate ways millions of years ago.

The evolution of humans

The evolution of humans

Nevertheless, humans and chimps share many traits. Both chimps and humans are proactive and reactive when it comes to aggression. Proactive aggression is when one plans an aggressive action, like in a fight or war. Reactive aggression isn’t planned. It is an emotional response like getting mad or a fight or flight response.

Chimps are a thousand times more reactive, and we are more into planning than proactive. Wrangham discussed that in Demonic Males. Chimps and humans are the only animals that live in groups that will kill others in different groups and those in the same group.

I’m angry, said the chimp.

“I’m angry,” said the chimp.

This is an example of chimps’ aggressiveness.

In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Wrangham believes humans developed bigger brains than chimps 1.9 million years ago. He theories that stones were used to tenderize raw meat and other foods. They realized they could create sparks as they tenderized their meat. It wasn’t long before they could control fire. The result was that cooked meals saved time from chewing raw meat. Controlling fire also allowed humans to stay on the ground during the day. Additionally, fires allowed them to sleep on the ground 1.9 million years ago.

Wrangham also explored how dogs domesticated themselves from wolves. That self-domestication took place 15,000-20,000 years ago. More importantly, humans self-domesticated themselves also.

Wrangham wrote in The Goodness Paradox that we have a relatively low tendency to be reactively aggressive. That means we don’t do things based on emotional responses. Therefore, we are high on the proactive aggressivity scale, which makes us plan things in advance to avoid those who act on emotions. That is the goodness paradox. We essentially are bad, but we plan in advance to respond to emotional anger.

NATO is a good example. We create a military alliance with like-minded people. NATO started with a dozen countries and has grown to thirty countries. Members of NATO don’t wage war with each other but will wage war if attacked.

While I grasp that concept, I would love to read an article or watch a video in which Wrangham would describe how he would deal with mass shootings, sexism, and white supremacy in America.